There’s a vital instrument in Holden’s new VE SSV, the straight-from-the-factory hotrod that heads the standard sedan line-up.
It’s not the biggest instrument, just the most vital.
In the normal course of events it might even be overlooked – at your peril, for it could be the difference between continuing to drive your SSV or catching the bus while the Holden languished in police custody.
We’re talking about the digital speedometer which gives a back-up reading to the traditional analogue instrument.
The digital speedo is part of the information service provided by the on-board computer and can be switched off – at your peril, if you’re pushing the Holden hard on the open road.
Digital speedos copped a lot of bad press in the 1980s when some manufacturers used them to supplant analogue equivalents.
In these more rigidly-enforced days they’re essential; the best cars have them, as a back-up to the traditional sweep-hand dials – cars like the Porsche 911, for instance.
And it was the 911 that convinced me of their value: assessing your velocity accurately with an analogue speedo is near impossible. With the needle looking – at a glance – to be right on 100km/h, the Porsche’s digital read-out varied between 98km/h and around 10km/h faster.
Should the police ever introduce zero tolerance, drivers without the benefit of a digital speedo will have to drive with the needle below 100km/h.
The 100km/h limit will become a default 95km/h.
So, back to the SSV and why its digital speedo is so vital.
Quite simply, the car can run away with you.
Where its Commodore predecessors left you in little doubt that you were moving fast, the VE SSV, with its rigid body, sublime handling and light, nimble feel, gives you little impression of your actual velocity.
Corners that can feel like 100km/h can easily be 20-30km/h faster – or more.
V8 Commodores have never been slow cars; in their most developed forms, like the Vauxhall-badged version of the HSV-tweaked Monaro they can run out to a shade under 290km/h.
Cars out of Australia never reveal their top speeds, and Holden engineers sidestep the question, saying they use gearing to keep terminal velocity below stratospheric levels.
But fast they certainly are, although for most of us, checking out a car’s speed is more about acceleration to 100km/h or from 80-100 on the motorway or open road.
There’s no reason the SSV shouldn’t be quick.
Its 6.0-litre (5967cc) LS2 V8 develops 270kW (around 352bhp), and a punchy 530Nm of peak torque.
Slot that into a car weighing 1790kg, and drive the rear wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox, and you have the ingredients for an exhilarating driving machine that delivers plenty of bang for each of the 66,690 bucks you shell out for it.
If you drive one, we promise you that you won’t be disappointed.
This is clearly the best factory Commodore yet, with a smoothness, precision and all-round capability that gives Ford’s well-sorted XR8 a real run for its money.
Where older SSs – always our pick of the Commodore range and a model we’ve preferred ahead of HSVs – had an initial feel of understeer and reluctance on turn-in, the SSV is direct, light and eager-to-please.
In fact, the superbly-communicative steering gives a crispness of turn-in that can initially catch you out, causing you to wind off lock.
Get used to it and its brilliant, endowing the car with a confidence-building surefootedness that is difficult to fault.
Ally that to stellar league roadholding and you have a very engaging point-to-point sports sedan.
On a favourite stretch of road, the SSV was an absolute delight.
The crisp turn-in was backed by unshakable grip and a rock-solid on-road feel. The suspension, though tuned to provide agile handling, is also absorbent, and the car treats mid-corner bumps with disdain.
And though the handling is sharp, the ride retains a suppleness that doesn’t compromise precision.
It truly is a car that shrinks around the driver, its very real bulk replaced by a feeling that you’re driving a 2.0-litre class sports sedan.
On a road where corner follows corner in rapid succession, the SSV changes direction with nary a hint of drama.
It rewards a light touch, though, responding best to minimal steering wheel movements: manhandling and heavy-handedness have to place in driving an SSV fast.
The engine is superb, with strong power and torque delivery and a nicely-evocative exhaust note when being worked hard.
The six-speed manual shifts cleanly and reasonably quickly, though the abundant torque eliminates the need for lightning gearshifts.
The actual gearshift is moderately chunky and heavy, though this is the first SS manual that we’ve felt entirely happy with in stop/start Auckland commuting.
We’d happily opt for a manual SSV where previously our preference was for an automatic.
The great joy of a manual gearbox in cars with this sort of torque is second gear corners.
Brake, slot the shifter back to second and floor the gas and the SSV rockets off the bend with a force that shoves you back into the seat. Heady stuff.
Open-road passing moves are near-instant, the 530Nm catapulting the car past slower traffic.
There was some driveline shunt in stop/start traffic, something that you also find in manual gearshift supercars like the Aston Martin AM V8.
The brakes are excellent, hauling the big car down from high speed with a reassuring consistency, time after time.
It has to be said, though, that the car’s cornering and roadholding limits are so high that you’ll find yourself using the brakes less than in older SSs.
The seats give excellent support and the driving position can be set low to give the driver an at-one feel with the car.
The steering wheel is comfortable, a shade too big in diameter for my tastes but without the ocean liner feel of older Holden tillers.
Interior décor on the test car was bold to say the least. A mix of orange and charcoal leather and with an expanse of orange dash.
The last-mentioned was one of the car’s few shortcomings: the orange reflected in the steeply-raked windscreen and you peered at the world as through orange-tinted spectacles.
Holden is a safety-conscious manufacturer, and the test car came with side curtain airbags to complement the front and side bags.
The sound system is a Blaupunkt unit with six-disc in-dash CD changer and 11 speakers including sub-woofers.
There’s dual-zone, electronically-controlled air-conditioning, electrically-adjustable exterior mirrors and electrically-wound windows.
But though creature comforts are important, they’re not the essence of the VE Commodore SSV.
The essence is its power and pace, its handling finesse and unshakable grip and the sheer driving pleasure it delivers.
Without doubt it’s the best SS model Commodore yet, with a sublime match of power to handling.
The Lotto-win car-buying list just got longer, the SSV sliding in alongside a Falcon Typhoon, Monaro and Falcon GT.
The most important question you can ever ask of a car is would you own one: in the SSV’s case it’s a no-brainer – do you even have to ask?
This is one of the world’s great sports sedans.